Q&A:Plagiarism

From BelieveTheSign

We have received two separate emails with the following specific questions relating to our article on William Branham's plagiarism. Both of these questions seek to raise arguments that would be considered "red herrings". We will comment first on the nature of the red herring argument, then we will outline a clear picture of the BIBLICAL sin of plagiarism. Fianlly, we deal with the specific questions raised in each of the emails.

Red Herring Arguments

Message believers have to reconcile what they believe (that William Branham was a biblical prophet) with the fact that William Branham plagiarized some of his more significant teachings. The easiest way to do this is to trivialize William Branham's plagiarism in such a way that a message follower will feel comfortable ignoring it.

In this case, the "red herring" is an issue that is introduced to deliberately distract a person from William Branham's plagiarism. It is an attempt to lead a person towards a false conclusion. A red herring might be intentionally used (particularly where there are no real arguments against the issue), or it could be inadvertently used during an argument as a result of poor logic.

Voice of God Recordings explanation as to why William Branham's failed prophecies are not important relies completely on the use of red herring arguments.

In the case of William Branham's plagiarism, the case is made that there are examples of plagiarism in the Bible. As a result, we should also ignore William Branham's plagiarism.

Our refutation of the charge of plagiarism in the Bible is found below. However, even if we were unable to refute this claim, it is completely irrelevant to the issue of whether William Branham was guilty of plagiarism. Each individual accusation must be dealt with separately and considered on its own merits.

The fact remains that William Branham said he received the following sermons from God while it can be clearly shown that he plagiarized them from others (the source of the plagiarism is listed in parentheses):

  1. 1957 sermon entitled "The Eagle in her Nest" (C.L. Franklin)
  2. 1960 sermon series on the seven church ages and the related book, "An Exposition of the Seven Church Ages" (Clarence Larkin)
  3. 1961 sermon entitled "Revelation Chapter 4" (Clarence Larkin)
  4. 1961 sermon series on the seventy weeks of Daniel (Clarence Larkin)
  5. 1963 sermon series on the seven seals (Clarence Larkin)
  6. 1964 sermon entitled "The Future Home Of The Heavenly Bridegroom And The Earthly Bride" (Clarence Larkin)
  7. 1965 sermon entitled "Christ is Revealed in His Own Word" ((Clarence Larkin)
  8. 1965 sermon entitled "A Thinking Man's Filter" (Billy Graham)

The Biblical Sin of Plagiarism

Today, plagiarism is considered to be intellectual theft or intellectual dishonesty. It is specifically defined as taking "the work or an idea of someone else and pass it off as one’s own."[1]

In Jeremiah 23:30 we understand that God also does not condone plagiarism:

Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.[2]

Here is the same passage in a modern English:

“Therefore,” says the LORD, “I am against these prophets who steal messages from each other and claim they are from me.[3]

It is clear that God is against plagiarism when a person says they received their inspiration from God, when in fact they received it from another person. And this is exactly what William Branham did:

Now, then, when we got finished with the book of the revelation of the church, what God did to those seven churches, which were then in their infancy, or their shadow, in Asia Minor. Then the Holy Spirit revealed and opened to us all the mysteries in There, of how He has brought His Church through history. And if you don’t have The Seven Church Ages on tape, it would be good if you listened to them. And soon they’ll be in book form.[4]

William Branham said that the Holy Spirit was the source of his teaching on the seven church ages, yet he never mentions Clarence Larkin as the source of most of his teaching. In fact, in many places, he actually quotes Larkin word for word.

Email #1

Question: Would you apply Jeremiah 23:30 to the following :

  1. Paul on Aratus' poem "Phainomena" in Acts 17:28?
  2. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount on Moses?
  3. Joshua and Samuel who quoted Jasher and Enoch verbatim?

Paul on Aratus' poem "Phainomena"

Acts 17:28 states:

...for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’[5]

This cannot be considered plagiarism for the following reasons:

  1. Paul did not write the Book of Acts, Luke did. What we have here is Luke relating Paul's speech on Mars Hill.
  2. Paul clearly states that he is quoting someone else - a poet. So he is putting everyone on notice that these are not his words.

How anyone could construe this as plagiarism? Plalgiarism is defined as the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own. Paul is not trying them to pass them off as his own ideas and clearly states that these are the words of a Greek poet.

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount on Moses

The Sermon on the Mount (also referred to as the Olivet Discourse) is recorded in Matthew 5:1-7:29. As with the question, it appears that the individual asking the question does not understand what plagiarism is. Plagiarism is trying to pass of someone else's idea as your own. There are a couple of reasons why Jesus' references to Moses are not plagiarism:

  1. Jesus is constantly saying throughout the Sermon on the Mount - “You have heard that it was said to those of old... "- and then he quotes one of the ten commandments. He is not trying to pass off the ten commandments as his own invention or idea. He is telling the people - "You all know where i got this from". If you do that, it's not plagiarism. If William Branham had said - "Clarence Larkin picked the following dates for the seven church ages and I agree with him" - then it would not have been plagiarism. The problem is that William Branham said that he got all of his revelations from God when he actually got more than a few of them from Clarence Larkin and others.
  2. Moses did not write the ten commandments, God wrote them on the tablets of stone. Who was Jesus? The author of the ten commandments. You can't plagiarize from yourself.

Joshua and Samuel who quoted Jasher and Enoch

There are 2 references in the Old Testament to the Book of Jasher:

Joshua 10:13

So the sun stood still, And the moon stayed, Until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the Book of Jasher?[6]

2 Samuel 1:18

Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.[7]

It is not plagiarism when you mention the source, which in this case was the book of Jasher.

Once again for emphasis, if William Branham had simply said that he was using some ideas that he got from Clarence Larkin, it would not have been plagiarism.

With respect to Enoch, we are unsure what the reference is as we are not aware of either Joshua or Samuel quoting Enoch. If the author of the question could send us a more detailed email containing a specific scripture reference, then we could address this issue more specifically.

Email #2

The charge of plagiarism can also be leveled against the authors of the synoptic Gospels. An example would be Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 which read respectively as follows:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.[8]
But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.[9]

Matthew mentions law, judgement, mercy, and faith. Luke mentions judgement and love. Did one of the authors plagiarize the other? Who did not give due credit to the other?

More importantly, should we reject one or both of the authors of Matthew or Luke because they were also guilty of plagiarism?

Luke 11:42

We will first deal with the charge against Luke's Gospel.

Although not particularly relevant, the point should be made that the book of Luke does not state that Luke was the author. In the introduction to the Gospel of Luke we read the following:

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; 3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, 4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.[10]

Here is a translation of the same passage into modern English:

Dear Theophilus:
Many people have done their best to write a report of the things that have taken place among us. They wrote what we have been told by those who saw these things from the beginning and who proclaimed the message. And so, your Excellency, because I have carefully studied all these matters from their beginning, I thought it would be good to write an orderly account for you. I do this so that you will know the full truth about everything which you have been taught.[11]

From this we understand that we are reading a document that the author of the Book of Luke wrote to his friend, Theophilus. It was handwritten. We can assume that Theolphilus allowed others to copy the letter he received from his friend and thus we have today the Gospel of Luke.

It is also clear that Luke tells us at the outset that he heard the story of Jesus from a number of eyewitnesses and from all of the reports that he heard and gathered, he put together an account of the story of Jesus. At no point in the book of Luke does the author state that this is his unique work. In fact, he starts out with a statement that he put together this account for his friend from a variety of different sources.

Nowhere does Luke violate the principle that God outlined in Jeremiah 23:30.

Matthew 23:23

Matthew the apostle was a former tax collector who may well have kept records of Jesus’ ministry. Tax collectors were well versed in keeping records. We also understand that the Gospel of Matthew, like all of the Gospels in the New Testament, is an anonymous document.[12] However, the first of the canonical gospels was widely ascribed by the early church to be Matthew, the apostle of Jesus (named in Mt 9:9; 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13).[13]

The original manuscripts of the books of the New Testament are referred to as "autographs" (or autographa). However, none of the original autographs are available today. They were most likely destroyed in the violent persecutions of the early church.[14] Everything we have today are handwritten copies of the original books.

Other than this, we have no real knowledge of how the Gospel of Matthew was written or put together. Did Matthew use an amanuensis, a scribe who wrote what Matthew dictated? From their letters, we know that both Paul and Peter used amnuenses.[15]

Certainly, if Matthew used his own experiences with Jesus, then a charge of plagiarism cannot be levied against him.

It is also important to note that the "sin" of plagiarism as described in Jeremiah 23:30 cannot be levied against Matthew or any of the Gospel writers as they are not ascribing the words to themselves, they are simply recounting the story of Jesus as they best recall it from everything they saw and heard.

Based on the above, we do not think the charge of plagiarism from a biblical perspective can be made against any of the Gospel writers.

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  1. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, eds., Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
  2. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Je 23:30.
  3. Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Je 23:30.
  4. William Branham, 64-0719M - The Feast Of The Trumpets, para. 38
  5. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ac 17:28.
  6. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Jos 10:13.
  7. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 2 Sa 1:18.
  8. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Mt 23:23
  9. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Lk 11:42.
  10. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Lk 1:1–4.
  11. American Bible Society, The Holy Bible: The Good News Translation, 2nd ed. (New York: American Bible Society, 1992), Lk 1:1–4.
  12. Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1993), lxxvi.
  13. W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 1, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 8.
  14. James B. Williams and Randolph Shaylor, eds., From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man: A Layman’s Guide to How We Got Our Bible (Greenville, SC; Belfast, Northern Ireland: Ambassador-Emerald International, 1999), 183.
  15. Harry Y. Gamble, “Amanuensis,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 172.